Man convicted of 1991 murder files appeal of parole denial

  • PEREZ III

  • MASON

A convicted murderer has filed an appeal in Hilo Circuit Court of the Hawaii Paroling Authority’s denial in August of his parole.

The petition was filed Tuesday by Tad Mason, who was convicted in 1996 of the Aug. 27, 1991, strangulation death of Juliana Laysa. It alleges the board’s denial of parole because Mason isn’t participating in a work furlough program is “arbitrary and capricious” because work furloughs are unavailable to inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Mason, who is currently housed on the Hale Nani campus of Hawaii Community Correctional Center, is asking the court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the parole board’s denial and the reasoning behind it.

Now in his late 40s, Mason is serving a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, plus 20 years, for the kidnapping and slaying of Laysa, a 23-year-old prostitute whose body was found in a cane field above Alae Cemetery in Hilo.

The state’s main witness in Mason’s trial was John Perez III, who is also serving a life sentence for Laysa’s death.

Perez, a reputed gang leader, said he contributed to Laysa’s death, but accused Mason of the actual killing. Perez said Mason called himself “The Prince of Darkness” and had sacrificed a dog in a satanic ritual.

The moniker, according to Mason, contributed to a media frenzy that prejudiced his ability to receive a fair trial in Hilo. He was denied a change of venue by trial Judge Greg Nakamura, now retired.

Perez said he and Mason had sex with Laysa in the graveyard before killing her. According to court transcripts, an FBI laboratory found Perez’s DNA, but not Mason’s, inside Laysa. Perez is also the only one who placed Mason at the murder scene.

Paroled on Dec. 18, 2015, Perez was charged with four felony offenses, including attempted second-degree murder, for a shooting Jan. 31, 2016, at Honolii Lookout in Hilo that hospitalized a 31-year-old Kona man.

Another suspect in the Honolii shooting, Scottie Yanagawa, was killed in a shootout with police on Feb. 9, 2016, in the Hilo Walmart parking lot.

Charges against Perez were later dropped without prejudice, meaning prosecutors can refile them, but his parole was revoked and he is in custody at Halawa Correctional Facility on Oahu. More than four years later, those charges haven’t been refiled.

Mason’s conviction was upheld upon appeal. Now-retired Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara denied Mason’s request for a retrial in 2009.

Mason has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and former Deputy Prosecutor Rick Damerville, who was not the trial prosecutor, told the parole board at a hearing for Mason on April 26, 2019, he has “strong personal doubts about the guilt of Mr. Mason,” according to a transcript of the hearing.

“I told them you’ve already paroled the primary person responsible for that homicide, which was Perez,” Damerville said Friday. “And it’s no secret that I had serious difficulties believing anything John Perez had to say about almost anything. He is an extremely violent person and his parole got revoked. I didn’t see how you could grant parole to Perez and not to Tad Mason … . I always had difficulty with the prosecution of Mason because it was almost 100% on the word of Perez.”

According to Damerville, his prior experience as a criminal defense attorney gave him “great skepticism about cases based upon the testimony of snitches who are getting something pretty large for being a snitch.”

Damerville said the state dropped numerous other cases against Perez, but added he didn’t know “whether that was because of his cooperation or whether that was just because they felt it was a waste of resources to prosecute him on all the other stuff” in addition to the homicide.

The chief trial prosecutor in Mason’s case, Brenda Carreira, who is now the county’s Mass Transit administrator and resigned her license to practice law rather than face a disciplinary hearing in 2006, didn’t immediately return a phone call Friday the Tribune-Herald.

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Krishna F. Jayaram, a special assistant to the state attorney general, said Friday the AG’S office is “reviewing the administrative appeal and will respond on behalf of the Hawaii Paroling Authority in due course.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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